It’s a well-known fact that soccer fans are passionate not just about the sport, but also the clubs and countries they support. It should come as no surprise then, that many of the athletes themselves are also fans, especially when it comes to international tournaments.
This year the U.S. will host 15 other countries as part of Copa America Centenario, a tournament that celebrates Copa America’s 100th anniversary. Because of this, many of the international players in the NPSL are excited to support their home nations during the tournament, with plenty of them attending some of the matches.
“I’ll be going to the Uruguay-Jamaica game on June 13 at Levi Stadium in Santa Clara,” says Uruguayan player Diego Fontes.
Others won’t be able to attend some of the early matches, but they plan on attending the big games.
“I won’t be in the group games because they’re playing pretty far from me,” shares Argentine Juan Gatti of Kingston Stockade. “I bought tickets for the final. I’m hoping Argentina makes it to the final and that’s my bet.”
There are some players who won’t be able to attend any matches at all due to responsibilities with their clubs, such as Javi Bautista, but that won’t keep them from cheering their national team on.
“I’ll be watching the games on TV for sure if I can’t make it to the stadium,” stated the Mexican player.
Copa America Memories
Copa America is taking place outside of South America for the first time, but while the tournament may be new to many American fans, South American players like NC Battalion’s Fontes have vivid memories of past editions.
“I remember everything,” he says. “Soccer is everywhere around you, you know? From the billboards on the street, from the commercials on the radio to the commercials on the TV and to the grocery packaging at the grocery store.”
Nashville FC’s Ignacio Milla can testify to the atmosphere that an event like this creates in a country, as just last year his native Chile hosted and won the tourney. Despite being unable to attend any matches because he was in the U.S. when tickets were being sold, Milla witnessed an entire nation celebrate winning the Copa America.
“I celebrated in Plaza Italia, one of the many monuments back home where they celebrate,” he recalIs. “I didn’t get a chance to be at a game but I breathed in the environment of Copa America which was pretty cool, [especially] having people from all over South America.”
A New Setting
By and large, NPSL players believe that Copa America taking place in the U.S. is a good thing, even if it breaks with tradition. Victor Bellido, an NJ Copa player, believes that this tournament is a perfect fit for a country that’s already known as a melting pot.
“We’re probably the most diverse country in probably the world. I feel like it’s a great thing that you’re giving everyone a chance to view their countries compete,” says the Peruvian player. “There’s a lot of soccer people who can’t visit other countries because of work or because of immigration statuses. I feel like this kind of brings them a little piece of home, just to see their national team competing here.”
Both Gatti and Fontes believe that Copa America will help the game grow in the U.S., especially because it will expose many people to a type of soccer they’ve not really had the chance to see.
“I think the 100 years – the centenario – is a very important thing and it happening here in the U.S. will bring a different view about men’s soccer here in the States,” adds Gatti. “I think it’s going to be a great summer for the United States when it comes to soccer.”
“The fans of the game in the U.S. are going to get a close look at all these teams and celebrate a tournament that’s so rich in history and that so many great players have played in in the past,” shares Fontes. “I think it’s going to be awesome for the growth of the game here.”
For Detroit City’s Bautista, this is just one more example of the development of soccer in the U.S.
“I think it’s good because I think it shows the game is growing here in the United States and It’s a good opportunity for us to show that to the world.”